The Parliamentary committee investigating IT pricing will increase pressure on major IT vendors as public hearings continue, said MP Ed Husic. The ongoing inquiry is a product of a campaign by Husic to find out why Australians pay more for IT software and hardware than other countries.
Husic, a Labor Party MP from western Sydney, told Computerworld Australia he was disappointed that major vendors Apple, Adobe and Microsoft failed to show at a hearing in Sydney on 30 July of the House Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communication. Now, Husic is "looking at ways in which we can take a much firmer line on the no show by the major vendors," he said.
"Half the reason we're having this inquiry in the first place is the vendors have been unwilling to engage," Husic said. "When asked questions, their preference appears to me to be to stonewall, and I don't think that's the right approach. I think they've got an ability to educate and inform through this process and I'd encourage them to do that."
The Apple mindset appears to be to "avoid scrutiny," the MP said. "I think if they've appeared before US Congressional hearings, then they can do the same in dealing with the Australian government... Frankly, it's almost insulting to the Australian Parliament that companies like this that make a lot of money out of government and the general community feel that they're above any process that actually asks them legitimate, fair questions."
"What's happening is the companies watch other companies, and if their rivals don't appear, they make the decision that they won't [either]," he said.
The vendors "have done themselves no service and they've certainly done us no favours, because we do need to be able to bring out a balanced report that covers all viewpoints," Husic said. "By them failing to engage faithfully in the process makes it harder for us to do our job."
The committee plans more public hearings asking why Australia appears to pay more for IT than other countries, and it's currently "negotiating appearances by different witnesses," Husic said. No dates are yet set, but an announcement could come "shortly," he said.
With a strong dollar and with digital downloads minimising shipping costs, "it is hard to fathom why we do pay so much" for digital downloads and IT software and hardware, the Labor MP said. "It is a situation that I think does warrant serious examination and potentially action."
The inquiry has raised questions about "the relevance of competition law, trade agreements and also potentially the way transfer pricing between companies could affect this issue," Husic said.
Exchange rates don't explain the price differences among Australia and other nations, the MP said. "Movements in currency will happen from time to time and people do understand that will impact on price," he said. "What the upwards movement in our currency has shown is that that can't really hold true as to why there is over a 50 per cent difference in price," he said
Instead, Husic believes prices are higher in Australia because "the big names in the [IT] sector have felt they could price at that level and that's what local consumers could bear." But consumers realise it's unfair, he said, and they "are increasingly unwilling to bear that price."